Get Rid of Mindless Practicing Piano with this Fun Creation!

I am so excited about a last minute idea I had last week when I was preparing for group lessons! This year, I want to help my students practice smarter, not harder or longer. In previous years, I’ve told them about all the great ideas I have about how to make this happen, but it feel like it goes in one ear and out the other. Anyone else have this issue when talking to their students about practicing piano?

Practicing piano is fun with this craft to help spot practice |

Practice Abacus to the Rescue!

Last year, I bought a bead counter from The Practice Shoppe that I have on piano that helps students keep track of how many times they have practiced a section of music. There are 10 beads on the counter, but that’s a few too many times to ask most students to practice one small section. When we used the practicing piano counters in lessons, they were great about the first 5 beads, but seemed to falter in their resolution in practicing piano after that.

I didn’t want to make all my families buy a bead counter, but I was suspected that my students weren’t using the 3 pencil approach that I have taught them for years (where you put 3 pencils on the left side of the piano and move one over for every time you get a section perfect). So, I began to wonder how I could encourage them to SEE their progress visually so that it would keep them accountable to practice.

After all, we all know that kids are very kinesthetic and will be much better at practicing piano if they can touch, feel, do, or see things!

Why not make your own Practicing Piano Abacus?

Eureka! “Silly me. We’ll just make our own at our first group lesson!” I thought. Ten beads on a pipe cleaner should be pretty easy! But then I got to thinking about how I really wanted them to practice:

  1. Play the entire piece and note which sections need more work.
  2. Pick 1 section and do what it takes to practice it perfectly 5 times.
  3. Pick a 2nd section and do what it takes to practice it perfectly 5 times.
  4. Pick a 3rd section and do what it takes to practice it perfectly 5 times.
  5. Play through the entire piece at least 1 more time and then make note of what needs more work the next day.

Why not make a Practicing Piano Abacus for the entire piece?

Piano practicing ideas, practice abacus to the rescue!| composecreate.comSo, I began thinking that we could make something that depicts in one glance what they are supposed to do with each piece! Woo-hoo! Now we’re talkin’!

  • Row 1 – 1 bead for the 1st play through
  • Row 2 – 5 beads for spot practicing the 1st section
  • Row 3 – 5 beads for spot practicing the 2nd section
  • Row 4 – 5 beads for spot practicing the 3rd section
  • Row 5 – 1 or 2 beads for the final play through(s)

With this set up, students can see that they are not really done with each piece until ALL the beads are on the OTHER side of the abacus!

So that’s what we did this week at our fall kick off group lesson! Obviously, the kids loved picking their mats and beads and creating something together. I even had my older students do this too, reminding them that even in college, I was moving pencils from one side of the piano to the other, because it’s just too easy to cheat and think we’ve done something 5 times when we’ve only done it 2-3. Being accountable works for all ages.

So here’s how to make your own:

Supplies for the Piano Practice Abacus:

  • Practicing piano ideas, practice abacus to the rescue!| composecreate.comHemp twine, necklace string, pipe cleaners or anything that is a little rigid so that the beads can easily be added.
  • Duct tape (to tape the string to the back of the mat board.
  • 5×7 mat boards (I didn’t know you could find these, but they are just pre-cut mat boards you can find at Hobby Lobby or Michaels. I got a set of 35 assorted styles for $6.99 plus I used a 40% off coupon to make it even less)
  • Beads – available at Walmart, Hobby Lobby, Michaels, and craft store
  • Markers – We didn’t use these but thought it would have been nice for students to write something at the top if they wanted

This probably doesn’t need explanation, but here are assembly instructions:

  1. Practicing piano ideas, practice abacus to the rescue!| composecreate.comCut 5 pieces of string to be about 10 inches long (just in case you need extra length. If the holes on your beads are really small, you might need to cut the string more as you…kind like threading a needle).
  2. Tape the 5 pieces on the back of the mat board in the right position. You can also notch the mat board with scissors as that might help them stay.
  3. Add your beads.
  4. Pull the string taut and tape the other side to the back of the mat board.

Happy practicing piano and group crafting! Be sure to leave a comment to let me know if you do it and what the results are!

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  1. Lisa Donovan Lukas September 3, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    Okay, I’m heading to Michaels!! This is fantastic ~ what a great idea! Thank you Wendy.

  2. Barbara September 3, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    What a wonderful idea! Thanks so much for sharing this, Wendy. A project for a group lesson AND a fabulous practice tool all in one!

  3. Melody Payne September 8, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    Wow Wendy, I LOVE this idea! What a great way to help students see when they are finished practicing a piece. I’m off to the craft store!

  4. Leigh September 12, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    I’m excited about this idea! Anything to help kids practice! Definitely going to use in my group lesson!

  5. Marilyn Brennan September 17, 2014 at 10:27 am

    We will be making these the 26th of Sept at our first group class, but since I don’t live near a city or Michaels’ I looked under for matt boards. I love the two-day free shipping. But I’ll try Michael’s online. This is a fabulous idea!

  6. Marilyn Brennan September 17, 2014 at 10:49 am

    I do not see 5×7 mat boards at Michaels online or on… I can keep looking but if you have any other ideas of where to get them, give me a hint, OK?

  7. Marilyn Brennan September 17, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Is there another name for these boards but mat boards? Sites are not responding to this key word. Did you decorate them or did they come in styles?
    Thank you.

  8. Sara @ Sara's Music Studio September 17, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Perfect timing, Wendy! We’re having a Piano Party on Saturday, and I was looking for another craft to make with the kids. This fits the bill, and the supplies won’t break the bank either! Thanks for sharing.

  9. Jennifer September 17, 2014 at 11:28 am

    I love this. I also had bought a practice abacus at the Practice Shoppe awhile back and also thought of having my students make a homemade version of it at a group lesson. But I just love how you are customizing it how you want them to practice! PERFECT! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Sally September 17, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    I am most definitely going to do this! Thanks for the idea and the instructions!

  11. Kelli September 17, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Your ideas are amazing and so well timed! Thank you for sharing and helping me to become a better teacher!

  12. Karen September 17, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    Thanks,Wendy! I don’t have group lessons, but will get organized to make these with students in private lessons. Customized approach is so practical and best of all, visual.

  13. Wendy Stevens September 18, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Hi Marilyn,

    I haven’t tried to search online stores and at first I didn’t that see Hobby Lobby had them, but then I looked a little harder and saw a package of them on an end cap at the back of the store in the framing department. Framing mat boards might be another term to search.

  14. Christine Bookman September 18, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Great idea, Wendy!!! I think we will make these at the upcoming “Mole Music” Piano Party I have been planning. It will tie in perfectly. Thanks for sharing this!

  15. Bettina Turner September 18, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    You can often get free mat board at framing shops, if you ask. They had slots of leftover ‘middles’ when they cut mats for framing!

  16. Pat Dymacek September 19, 2014 at 10:04 am

    Great idea, Wendy! Thank you!!

  17. Studio Open House Recap | Sara's Music Studio September 25, 2014 at 11:50 am

    […] our visit with Draven, we took a break for snack-time, and then worked on making Practice Abacuses, a cute craft that Wendy Stevens blogged about last week at This was the perfect […]

  18. Jessica May 27, 2016 at 8:25 am

    Would it make sense to use one string for each day of practice?

  19. Wendy Stevens May 27, 2016 at 8:42 am

    Well, this is more for spot practicing, so the idea is that they will move things over to the right a number of times on each practice day. You could certainly make one for days practiced, but that would be for a different purpose for what this was intended. Does that make sense?

  20. Kerri September 6, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    I cannot get my kids to practice like this. We talk about it EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK. I think this is a great idea and we’re going to do it at our next group lesson! I have kids of different ages/levels at these lessons, so it’s hard to find things that are appropriate. I really appreciate all you do to make our lives easier! 🙂

  21. Jahn Crews September 6, 2017 at 11:41 pm

    Wendy, I am another piano teacher who is soooo appreciative of your creativity and your generosity in sharing. This sounds like the perfect way to encourage “spot” practice. Thanks so much! I think the students will have
    a lot of fun with this and hopefully most of them will put it to good use!

  22. […] and Piano Teacher Wendy Steven took the bead counter to a whole new level. Her blog “Get Rid of Mindless Practicing the Piano” is a wonderful resource on how to use abacus to help practice time fun and […]

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